We’ve long wondered what the legislature’s wrong-headed laws are costing North Carolina, both in reputation and in taxpayer dollars to defend them in court. It may be impossible to put a precise dollar figure on the state’s reputation, but we now know the legal cost: More than $8 million. The Associated Press reported last week that the Republican-led General Assembly has budgeted $4 million a year for the next two years to pay outside lawyers to defend controversial N.C. laws.
Editorials: North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper must declare election law unconstitutional | Bob Geary/Indy Week
Richard Hasen is the nation’s leading scholar on elections law as political weapons and constitutional fights. A University of California-Irvine political scientist and law professor, Hasen was in Raleigh last week speaking at N.C. State University. His topic: “Race, Party and Politics: North Carolina’s New Front in the Voting Wars.” Naturally, I thought of our Attorney General Roy Cooper, who wants to be governor. Cooper has a constitutional problem. I’ll get to it shortly. But first, as Hasen did, consider the case of a political party that—under the guise of “reform”—passes election laws designed to cripple the rival party by disenfranchising African-American voters. North Carolina, 2013? Not yet: Hasen started with North Carolina in 1898, when the all-white Democratic Party ousted the fusionist Republicans (blacks and some whites) who’d governed after the Civil War. “Reforms” then prevented most blacks from voting, and the Republican Party ceased to be a force. In 2013, the parties have flipped, but the situation is familiar. The Republican Party, virtually all-white, is in charge. This year’s Republican “reforms”—the infamous House Bill 589, which critics term a voter-suppression law and which, Hasen said, is the most restrictive set of voting requirements passed by any state since the civil rights era—will hurt the Democrats, now the party supported by almost every African-American voter. So, Hasen asked: Was 1898 about race? Or party? And is 2013 about party? Or race?
The criticism could not have been much harsher: North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature had set out to undo 50 years of progress with a Tea Party-inspired “playground of extremist fantasies” that include tax giveaways to its richest residents and election law changes that make it harder for residents to register and vote. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has been very critical of several actions by the legislature. But the author of that scathing assessment in The Huffington Post last week was the North Carolina attorney general, Roy Cooper, a Democrat and the man whose job it is to enforce those laws, including the voting changes that have already become the subject of a federal lawsuit. His remarks brought a sharp rebuke from Gov. Pat McCrory and accusations from Republicans that Mr. Cooper is letting his ambition — he is widely expected to run against Mr. McCrory, a Republican, in 2016 — get in the way of his duties as attorney general. And the dispute between the two is a reminder of how deep and bitter the divide remains in a state still making sense of the fiercely conservative, boldly activist legislative session that ended in July. In a state long seen as a relatively moderate outlier in the South, the session was the first with a Republican governor and legislature since Reconstruction.
Roy Cooper is in a very lonely place. He’s a Democratic state attorney general surrounded by conservative Republicans who control North Carolina state government. Now those Republicans have put Cooper in an awkward spot. He has publicly condemned GOP-sponsored laws on voter identification and gay marriage, yet must defend those same laws in court. Further complicating matters, Cooper plans to run for governor in 2016. That has prompted Republican charges that he’s more interested in being governor than upholding North Carolina’s laws.
Gov. Pat McCrory says Attorney General Roy Cooper could wind up a witness against the state of North Carolina in a lawsuit the US Department of Justice filed against the state’s new voter ID law. “Political statements by an attorney general of any lawyer can have a detriment(al) impact on their ability to defend our state,” McCrory said. During a visit to Cape Fear Community College, McCrory, a Republican, was asked if he agrees with the opinion of one of his legal advisers that Cooper, a Democrat, compromised his ability to represent the state in the lawsuit.
A war of words between Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper is heating up over the lawsuit over voter laws. The two disagree on how to respond to Monday’s lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice to block the state’s tough new voter laws. Cooper calls the governor’s decision to hire an outside attorney to defend the state a waste of money. He told reporters Tuesday that he may not personally agree with the new voter laws, but his office is more than capable of defending them. “There are laws that I have disagreed with personally that our staff have defended successfully,” said Cooper. McCrory will not allow the attorney general’s office alone to defend the state against the federal lawsuit to block North Carolina’s new Republican-backed voting laws.
After passing politically divisive legislation on voting laws and setting in motion new abortion restrictions, North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly has given itself the authority to defend them in court. Last month, in a last-minute move before adjourning for the year, lawmakers inserted two sentences into legislation clarifying a new hospital-billing law that would give the state House speaker and Senate leader the option to defend a state statute or provision of North Carolina’s constitution and not rely on Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has until Aug. 25 to veto the measure. Cooper hasn’t refused to defend the state in any case, though counterparts in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania said they would not defend their states’ same-sex marriage bans.
On the campus of AB Tech students are trickling back for the fall semester. Beyond the looming, marathon study sessions and exams is concern over a new requirement of the Voter I.D. bill signed into law Monday. Students now have to show a government I.D. to vote. “It kind of doesn’t make sense at all, actually,” said Takidra Young. Young’s college doesn’t count even though AB Tech is a state-run college. “I disagree with that,” said AB Tech student Brock Thurber. Just because it’s an inconvenience to the student.” Said Young, “it doesn’t make sense because you have to use a government I.D. to get the student I.D. anyway.”
There’s a new push to veto North Carolina’s controversial voter ID bill. Attorney General Roy Cooper is stepping into the fight. He’s making one last effort to convince Gov. Pat McCrory not to sign it. McCrory has yet to sign that bill, but has said that he will. He could be doing that very soon. However, until that pen hits the paper, Cooper, who is a Democrat, hopes signatures on an online petition will change the governor’s mind. The bill would, among many things, require a photo ID at the polls, would make early voting days longer, but shorten the number of early voting days, and stop same-day registration. “I sent the governor a letter telling him this was a bad idea,” said Cooper.